ilesj's blog

1541 Ultimate, original vs Ultimate-II


It’s been already quite a while since I last wrote anything about 1541 Ultimate. In the meantime I’ve gotten myself also the new model, the 1541 Ultimate-II. It’s a good time to recap the project and device status at the moment, especially since the latest firmware update brought some nice new features.

So what’s different from the previous model?

Let’s start with the physical differences.


Obviously the appearance has changed a lot. The most apparent change is that this new model comes in a case, and is more compact. Now it actually looks like a cartridge, and it doesn’t have those silly legs the previous model was standing on. And yes, having  the case on it is a definite plus.

The smaller size comes with a downside though. The SD card slot is replaced by a microSD card one. Regular size SD cards are much nicer to handle I think. But it’s not only that! Since the first few production batches the microSD card slot part had to be changed due to sourcing issues. Mine is with the new slot, and I must admit, the new microSD slot is a bitch. With this new card slot, the microSD card goes deeper inside the cartridge. You need to have something thin to insert or eject the card. You just can’t do it with the tip of your finger.

The microSD card can barely be seen inside the unit.

But! As to make up for the nasty microSD card slot, there is now a standard USB port. The USB port supports all kinds of USB media – so you can use things like USB sticks, card readers or even external hard drives. Just keep in mind that everything you plug into 1541U will be powered trough the C64 PSU (unless externally powered USB media). My advice is to try to keep the power load in minimum unless you have a higher grade PSU for your Commodore. The C64 standard power supply just isn’t that good. They never were, and now they are also old.

USB card reader plugged into 1541 Ultimate-II. Both this and the internal microSD card are accessible from the Ultimate menu.

In addition to the USB port, a new feature is a port for tape adapter. Yep, the 1541U can now emulate also the Datassette. More on that further down.

What is no longer present is the optional Ethernet port. So no on-board network possibility anymore. Another thing that is gone is the standalone operation mode. Anyhow that’s something I don’t miss at all, since if the cartridge is not connected to the expansion port, you basically miss everything that the 1541U is great for (cartridge emulation, on-screen UI and so on…).

New firmware features

Inside the cartridge there’s a bigger FPGA processor that makes it possible to have more features than before. The Ultimate-II introduced the new firmware generation that goes by number 2. The old model is also able to run special builds of these 2.X firmwares, but with limited set of features. The last officially released 2nd generation firmware to run on the old model is 2.4c, for the time being at least. At the end of the post  I have photos of setting menus to give an idea what are the differences between latest FW versions for both 1541U and U-II.

However, I have understood that those who have the motivation and knowledge to compile the firmware by themselves from the available sources, can choose which features they want. I have no interest for that so I’m going with the firmware versions that gets published on the 1541 Ultimate web site.

But now on with the more interesting new features!

The tape adapter is an option you can choose upon ordering. It plugs into a small port in the cartridge’s back side.

The tape emulation. With the optional tape adapter it’s possible to run TAP files. So if you’re into those fancy tape loaders that have music, pictures and flashing borders on them, you can run them straight off the SD card. With the adapter, you can also copy real tapes to TAP files and vice versa. It’s also possible to create empty TAP files and save stuff on them. I have nostalgic feelings for tape loaders, so I warmly welcome this feature. Not to mention the possibility to back up some of the old tapes.

Since the recent firmware update of 2.6 the 1541 Ultimate enters to EasyFlash 3’s domain and offers the KERNAL replacing functionality. A nice bonus I must say. It’s possible to run custom ROMs for both the C64 KERNAL and the emulated disk drive. Isn’t that nice or what?

Another welcome feature is the one called UltiCopy. When there is a real disk drive connected to 1541 Ultimate-II with a serial cable, UltiCopy reads the disk in drive and saves it as a .d64 disk image. It only takes a few moments. Again, very handy for taking backups from your old stuff. Sadly though the UltiCopy works only one way. Writing disk images to actual floppies still needs to be done by running some C64 native copy utility between real and emulated disk drive.

The SID emulation is also something for the 1541 Ultimate-II only. As the cartridge has an audio out anyway, it can also be configured to output emulated SID sounds. My C64s play music fine by themselves, so I really haven’t really gotten into this feature. Anyhow, it’s an option, and one to have a stereo SID sounds too!

Sure there are yet something more, but these are the highlights for me. For the rest, have a peek on the screen shots at the end of the post.

Is the new model worth it if you have the old one?

The 1541 Ultimate is an awesome device for any active C64 hobbyist. While true with both the old and new, the new model is even more so, offering more features.

Still, with the original 1541 Ultimate, the fundamentals are the same. More than anything else, the 1541 Ultimate is a highly compatible emulated 1541 disk drive.  In addition to that it offers a whole bunch of other features and emulated peripherals. Everything I wrote about the original model years ago still applies to it.

It’s just that the feature list has grown a lot since then. Only some of the new features have been made available for the old model (as an official firmware build), and that is what finally made me give in. I believe the feature list will continue to grow, and in that regard the current model that gets much better support is a must.

Still – they’re both great.

Overview of setting menus

On left column: 1541 Ultimate-II with 2.6d
On right column: 1541 Ultimate Plus with 2.4c

Main settings menu:


USB settings (Ultimate-II):

Audio output settings:


Software IEC settings (Ultimate-II):

C64 and cartridge settings:


1541 emulation settings:


File browser menu: